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Safe internet

A Coimbatore court has issued a notice to Google following a complaint by a software engineer. The grievance is that the popular search engine gives links to pornographic material even for innocuous queries.  The engineer has children at home, who are misled by Google, the complaint says. He has also asked for: a) YouTube to filter videos before they are uploaded. b) Search engines to adhere to local laws and values c) India to follow the ‘Chinese example’ in cleaning up the Internet.

Google runs a sophisticated multi-billion dollar business. We can safely say that throwing up porn is not central to its business model. There are ways discriminating users can effectively block porn content, say for example, by using SafeSearch filters, which is strongly recommended to protect the kids.  Parenting is not Google’s responsibility, it is ours’. 

There is no denying that there is soft porn on YouTube. In fact, that seems to be behind the video service’s recent surge in popularity in India. The adult-oriented songs, which late night TV used to telecast, have all moved to YouTube, which also hosts tonnes of educational and clean entertainment videos. So, we may not like to ban YouTube and but would like to see it filtering and blocking objectionable content. So, should different religious groups start a campaign to remove recipes, with ingredients offensive to them? Should Jains file a PIL against all meat dishes on YouTube?  In this country, there is always someone to take offence for anything.

How about Facebook? There are lots of teens there; increased interaction between them may lead to behaviour their parents may not like. So, another case to ban or filter content there? Protecting local culture and values are important; many groups have tried their hand at that. Remember, what Sri Ram Sene did in Mangalore a few years ago, or what groups like that try to do on every St. Valentine’s day. Any effort to define local values would have to build a consensus involving them as well.

Grievances against web sites keep popping up in this country. What makes them serious, is there is a readily waiting government machinery armed with punitive powers to address them. Pune police arrested a youth in 2008 for posting ‘obscene comments’ on Sonia Gandhi on Orkut. The Chinese model of cleaning up the Internet will involve creating a massive surveillance state and a heavily censored media. So, shall we try, what Pakistan has done? Banning these sites sporadically!  Or, shall we decide that as we are a democracy, we need to live with certain things, we may not personally endorse.

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